In the name of the Triune God: Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer
The book Where the Crawdads Sing, tells the story of Kya, a young girl abandoned at the age of 6 by her mother, then siblings, and finally her father and ostracized by society at large. Though left on her own at a young age, she has learned just enough skill and fear to survive on her own while hiding from those in authority—like the truant officer and social services. For the most part Kya stays away from society preferring to live in the marsh even as she struggles for basic necessities. The times that she must interact with others, like going to the store to purchase grits or other necessary supplies, are treated with caution and trepidation by the Marsh Girl (as she has come to be known) and often end in rejection and further isolation of Kya from society.
There are those who try to make subtle connections with Kya and help her in ways that she never realizes. The cashier at the Piggly Wiggly shows Kya the different coins and how much they are worth—teaching her some very basic math skills and often slipping a few extra coins in her change. Its not much, but there is some care and compassion for Kya exercised on behalf of the cashier even if Kya never returns it and instead grows somewhat suspicious of the well meaning cashier. Jumpin’—who owns an old, backwater marina—buys fresh mussels from Kya or trades gas for smoked fish. He and his wife, Mabel, care about Kya and protect and care for her to the extent that she will allow it. But it is not until Tate, a friend of one of her older brothers who abandoned her, reaches out to Kya in unimposing and non-threatening ways by gifting her with feathers and not forcing human contact that Kya will finally find herself willing to make a connection with another human being. In that connection that will develop into a friendship Kya begins to bloom into personhood. Tate will teach her how to read and bring her books and expose her to a world beyond that of the marsh where she lives and it is only then that Kya finds true freedom.
Kya had always been alone and isolated, running and hiding from any threat or perceived danger like a scared rabbit. In many ways she was more wild than human. Though she knew how to communicate and could interact with others, she rarely spoke and then only when she had too. She lived by instinct not reason or rational thought processes, relying on herself and nature for most of her needs—physically and emotionally—and only reluctantly reaching out to others for those things she could not supply for herself.
For some of us, especially the introverts in the crowd, that might sound pretty good. Living on the Carolina coast, or any coast for that matter, just you and the seagulls, a small cabin with a sleeping porch right off the water, spending every day putting around in your boat and fishing. When you’re not on the water, you’re working in a small garden patch or feeding the chickens, going for long walks on the beach, reading books, rejoicing at the sea’s embrace, and making friends with the moon. And though that might sound like a rather enjoyable existence in the short term, day after day, month after month, year after year of even self-imposed isolation, only builds loneliness. Couple that with a fear of humanity and you begin to construct the invisible walls of a prison around your heart and soul that only further distances you from humanity. The embrace of the ocean and friendship of the moon, even the touch of the seagull, can only be so meaningful because, though you might give them everything, there is little they can offer you in return that is emotionally sustaining..
As Kya learned the dissatisfaction of a life alone, she wrestled with the fears and anxieties that limited her capacity to hope or believe in her fellow man. And yet, when she finally does surrender herself to hope, when she allows herself to enter into a friendship with Tate, she discovers that relationships are the key to unlocking her prison of isolation and loneliness. The key to freedom was not in shutting people out and aloneness, nor was it simply in survival; instead it was in the opportunity of a relationship with another human being.
Sometimes we discount the importance of relationship—especially when it might cause us to suffer or look beyond our own beliefs and established sense of right and wrong. We falsely believe that without others we are free to be who we want to be; without others we do not have the pain of disappointment or failed expectations or the suffering of rejection. Instead of placing our hope in another, we locate it firmly within our self.
Simon and Garfunkel said it best in their song, I Am a Rock:
I’ve built walls
A fortress deep and mighty
That none may penetrate
I have no need of friendship, friendship causes pain
It’s laughter and it’s loving I disdain
I am a rock
I am an island
I have my books
And my poetry to protect me
I am shielded in my armor
Hiding in my room, safe within my womb
I touch no one and no one touches me
I am a rock
I am an island
And a rock feels no pain
And in island never cries
Sometimes we reject others; we reject relationships—as a matter of survival or as a matter of self-protection—because we think it will free us from suffering and pain but in reality, the movement away from relationship only causes more suffering as we sink into a self –exacted exile, banished to our own Alcatraz. And it is in that reality, the reality of greater suffering and pain in the absence of relationship, that we might begin to understand God as relationship.
God is not simply a being—God’s beingness is predicated on his identity and essence as relationship; three in one and one in three. To believe in the Triune God is to believe in relationship as the essence of God’s beingness. For Christians that means that relationship is the primary means of knowing God because God is relationship. When we reject relationship or pursue isolation, we are, in essence, rejecting God. Even more than rejecting God, to pull away from relationship is a means of imprisoning one’s self in isolation and selfishness. That prison may seem to feel better than the pain or suffering we might experience when we have exposed our soul to another human being but it does not come without its own weight, without its own suffering, without its own pain. Isolation leads us into a void that cannot know true freedom because we are only ever truly free when we are connected to one another. We may have all sat in our pews of our own volition and free will this morning, but it is not until we come forward and share in the body of Christ broken open and multiplied for us that we are truly connected as communion, as the one body, and then truly freed from our sin and selfishness and offered redemption and salvation.
In God we find our true freedom because we have broken the bonds of darkness, sin and evil imposed upon us from this present world and instead connected to God and humanity in right relationship: striving to put others before ourselves by denying our own desires in favor of encouraging the other to succeed; by a simple act of presence—showing up unexpectedly and without expectation of anything in return; and by our willingness to embrace and accept the other for who they are instead of resisting or judging.
Resistance and judgment block us from entering into relationship with God and one another. And it is not until we can accept another—regardless of agreement on religious beliefs, political ideations, or social mores—that we can truly know the freedom God offers us. God as Trinity is relationship and within the relationship of the Triune God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit or Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer—there is fluidity of being not resistance. As Trinity, God calls us to release our resistance toward one another. That does not mean we do not have boundaries but that those boundaries are porous and that we should be gentle and respectful of how we disrupt another person’s boundaries.
A rock may feel no pain and an island may never cry, but neither rocks nor islands are human. You and I are created by God to be in relationship with God and one another. We can spend all our time running and hiding in the marsh like a small, scared child attempting to be self-reliant even as we discover the impossibility of that path or we can allow ourselves the opportunity and possibility of relationships where we just may discover the true freedom of living in the kingdom of God.
Trinity Sunday Year C: Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31; Canticle 9; Romans 5:1-5; John 16:12-15
Church of the Ascension – Episcopal, Montgomery, AL
Sunday, June 16, 2019
The Rev. Candice B. Frazer